Social work students study environmental justice and civil rights connection


By: BJ Bryson
Social Work Faculty

NAACP climate action group

Students participating this year included Shelby Rucker, Erica Berkowitz, Blain Tariku, Danelle Griffin, Kristina Soliza, Dezarae Murchison, Courtney Fennell, Jordan Carey with Dr. Dudley in the photo.

The Council on Social Work Education has mandated in the latest educational standards that environmental issues be addressed as part of professional competencies.  For some students it can be difficult to initially understand what cancer rates in an area have to do with the individual client who appears for help with medical bills.  Students are asked to bear witness not only to the struggle of a single client but to connect the dots to the many clients that may be affected by an environmental factor. Such a case to cause perspective is not new to social work with a recognition that ‘on behalf of the many’ is equally as important for the professional social worker as every individual client.

In Harrisonburg we are fortunate that the Climate Action Alliance of the Valley (CAAV) provides current information on many environmental issues and policies impacting the Shenandoah Valley and beyond.  Speakers from CAAV such as Mr. Grady have shared their knowledge of climate change with social work and humanitarian affair minor students.

What is the connection between environmental justice and civil rights?  Social work students had an opportunity to learn from Rev. Dr. Gerald Dudley a long-term civil rights activist and pastor emeritus of Providence Missionary Baptist Church of Atlanta at the Freedom Fund dinner of the local and campus chapters of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People  (NAACP).  In the packed Festival Ballroom with a theme ‘Climate Change is a Civil Rights Issue’, Dr. Dudley connected the efforts of early civil rights leaders with current efforts to take care of the environment as a necessary requirement of justice.  He spoke to how corporate greed has compromised the environment and that  ‘everyone has a human right to clean air, toxic free water’ and to live in places free of all forms of violence, including environmental violence. He spoke of community progress too often on the backs of a community’s poor as urbanization resulting in the reduction of green spaces and an increase in conditions unfavorable to the environment occur.  Dr. Gerald was able to connect dots that often seem unrelated when community members are engaged in economic survival while environmental compromise occurs.  By the time such compromises have been made, community members are often left with dire living conditions confrontational actions for redress of the devastation of their community.

Published: Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Last Updated: Tuesday, November 27, 2018

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